Premier League: 10 things to look out for this weekend

Manchester City head for Anfield, how best for Manchester United to utilise Paul Pogba and time for Leeds to step up a gear

1) City need to end striking questions

Manchester City fans have not been in attendance for a league win at Anfield since 2003, when Nicolas Anelka scored two. What City would do to have the option of a player of Anelka’s ilk in his prime. After every game in which City fail to score, like in Paris, questions will be asked of their striking options. They were unable to get past Southampton, won via a deflected strike at Chelsea and were shut out by PSG despite dominating the game. They will need to decide who will get the nominal nod down the middle. Phil Foden operated there at Chelsea and offered control, Ferran Torres and Raheem Sterling have pace to stretch a Liverpool defence that failed to get to grips with Brentford or Pep Guardiola could decide to back Gabriel Jesus to perform as a more traditional striker. City need to find consistency in the final third, which is not always easy when things rotate and change so much. WU

• Liverpool v Manchester City, Sunday 4.30pm (all times BST)

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2) Pogba should stay on bench for now

Manchester United have a lot of good players, but whether a title-winning team can be permed from them – by any manager – is doubtful. However, they are better than they’ve shown so far this season and as such, Ole Gunnar Solskjær has a decision to make about Paul Pogba – again. Of course Pogba is a lovely player able to do things of which others cannot even conceive, but when off his game he does not offer sufficient intensity or precision. Increasingly, it looks like United’s midfield cannot support both him and Bruno Fernandes, and any choice between them is no choice whatsoever – Fernandes is in a different class and of an entirely different order. Solskjær knows it too, which is why he sometimes accommodates Pogba on the left wing – a move that can sometimes work, but which also denies United the speed and incision they need from that position. Given Pogba has also not committed his future to the club, the sensible decision is to proceed with him on the bench. DH

• Manchester United v Everton, Saturday 12.30pm

Paul Pogba in action against Villarreal during the week.
Paul Pogba in action against Villarreal during the week. Photograph: Jan Kruger/Uefa/Getty Images

3) Similar styles collide on south coast

It is perfectly reasonable to suggest that, once the emotional aspect of a derby is removed, a trip to Brighton will give Arsenal a sterner test than a home meeting with Tottenham. Last Sunday’s barnstorming win has rightly stoked optimism around the Emirates but the trick now will be to back it up in a demanding Saturday evening fixture. “That is what we want to avoid,” Mikel Arteta said when asked whether this season would be the now-traditional Arsenal rollercoaster. “We don’t want that, we want to be stable and consistent in performances, which will lead to results.” That is certainly happening at Brighton, who rarely let their standards slip in 2020-21 but are earning the points to match this time around. There are similarities between the styles Arteta and his outstanding counterpart, Graham Potter, have instilled; if Arsenal’s holds sway this time then their momentum will be worth taking seriously. NA

• Brighton v Arsenal, Saturday 5.30pm

4) Saints can test Chelsea’s weak points

Chelsea will have felt almost invincible for the last little while, winning the Champions League and Super Cup before making an impressive start to their Premier League campaign – even the first points they dropped, at Anfield after having Reece James sent off, represented a triumph. But a conclusive home defeat to Manchester City followed by the Champions League loss to struggling Juventus will have them wondering if they’re quite as good as they thought. And though Southampton have accumulated only four points from their six games, they are worthy opponents. Their pressing will test Chelsea’s centre-backs, who are solid but not great playing out from the back, while Ralph Hasenhüttl’s 4-4-2 formation is ideal for exploiting the weaknesses in Thomas Tuchel’s 3-4-2-1, his team able to overload in wide areas with twin strikers waiting in the middle. Of course, a home win is still the likeliest outcome but, of the teams struggling at the bottom, Southampton are Chelsea’s most difficult match-up. DH

• Chelsea v Southampton, Saturday 3pm

5) Leeds bid to bin burnout theory

Leeds have, for the most part, looked a pale imitation of last season’s freewheeling entertainers in their opening half-dozen games. They are scoring fewer goals but conceding more, creating fewer chances and taking fewer shots. Injuries and suspensions have not helped their defensive balance, and Marcelo Bielsa will hope the influential Luke Ayling returns against Watford to help on that score, but something is clearly not quite right. Is it second-season syndrome or does the ferocious tempo Bielsa demands year after year have to hit a wall somewhere eventually, particularly given his core group has not changed much? The Hornets’ visit starts a run of games that should kick-start their campaign, with Southampton, Wolves and Norwich their other opponents in an appealing-looking October. Leeds will surely not be in the bottom three after those assignments, but could do with getting off the mark now if the old theory about “Bielsa burnout” is not to get a fresh airing. NA

• Leeds v Watford, Saturday 3pm

Marcelo Bielsa during last week’s home defeat to West Ham
Marcelo Bielsa during last week’s home defeat to West Ham. Photograph: Zac Goodwin/PA

6) Cornet a big loss for Clarets

At least one of Burnley and Norwich will be relegated and few will be surprised if they are playing each other in the Championship next season. To avoid such a fate, the former need to win this game to get their season up and running. They will, almost certainly, be without Maxwel Cornet, who scored at Leicester on his full debut but his outing was curtailed by injury. The Ivorian’s impact has not just been on the pitch, but also off it where he has been seen to lift the dressing room with his positive attitude and energy in training. Burnley’s stagnating squad was in need of new blood before the window closed, but they need to start collecting points to make them desirable to potential January incomers. Without Cornet the summer signings available, Nathan Collins and Wayne Hennessey will sit on the bench, watching on in hope one of the old guard can make up for the absence of promise. WU

• Burnley v Norwich, Saturday 3pm

7) Foxes must rediscover Maddison’s best

Leicester’s seven points from six games is a poor return for a squad rammed with quality. Naturally, the absences of Wesley Fofana, James Justin and Jonny Evans are keenly felt, but Brendan Rodgers must also find a way of getting more from James Maddison, whose head might have been turned by the interest in him during the summer. One thing that might help is a change from one to two strikers, with Kelechi Iheanacho or Patson Daka joining Jamie Vardy up front. One way of doing this would be to retain the 3-5-2 formation used against Legia Warsaw, allowing Leicester’s replacement centre-backs safety in numbers and Maddison a free role; another would be in a 4-4-2, with Marc Albrighton and Harvey Barnes supplying the width and Maddison left on the bench. But however they line up at Selhurst, they’ll find themselves facing tricky opponents: Palace are settling under Patrick Vieira and have the midfield invention and attacking firepower to cause plenty of problems for a side low on confidence and cohesion. DH

• Crystal Palace v Leicester, Sunday 2pm

8) Nuno seeks balance to counter Villa

Pickings were slim, but Nuno Espírito Santo was a surprising appointment as the Tottenham manager. Given Joe Lewis and Enic are never going to finance a title push again – when Mauricio Pochettino’s team challenged, Liverpool and the Manchester clubs were rebuilding – picking a manager with a reputation for exciting football seemed the obvious and sensible move, to mollify the fans if nothing else. But instead they settled on a cautious, uninspiring coach whose preferred style of play is entirely unsuited to the top-heavy squad bequeathed him, and last weekend’s derby capitulation reflected that. Consequently, after only six league games, Nuno is already desperate for a performance, and this latest engagement is precisely the kind he wouldn’t have wanted – Villa are a good side, on a buzz. They will, though, come to attack, leaving space into which Spurs can counter, but can Nuno find the right team and formation, then convince his players to believe in him and it? DH

• Tottenham v Aston Villa, Sunday 2pm

9) Brentford and Benrahma’s joyous reunion

Brentford’s £25m sale of Saïd Benrahma to West Ham, after an initial loan, was a perfect example of the way they have worked over the past half-decade: developing talent until bigger clubs come knocking, reaping the financial rewards and using some of the proceeds to build so cleverly that their on-pitch progress keeps accelerating. The Algerian playmaker faces his old club on Sunday and it should be the happiest of reunions, particularly as he has cast off a patchy first season to become an influential figure for David Moyes this time around. Benrahma has three goals already but has added the workrate and simplicity to match his undoubted individual flair; Brentford, so dynamic and fresh from rattling three past Liverpool, have hardly missed him and it feels like that rare kind of deal from which everyone has emerged feeling better off. Both sides are an engaging watch and the meeting of seventh and ninth should be a pulsating one. NA

• West Ham v Brentford, Sunday 2pm

10) Bruce needs Willock firing again

Newcastle’s end-of-season rise up the table was the result of one man alone: Joe Willock. After arriving on loan from Arsenal, the midfielder showed qualities that cost the club £25m to sign him permanently. A goal in each of Newcastle’s last seven games helped them collect 14 points, securing a 12th-placed finish in the process. The mid-table placing and Willock’s goals hid a number of unpleasant truths about the quality within the Newcastle squad, mainly that it is built for a relegation scrap, summed up by an inability to score this season, netting only seven times in six matches on the way to three draws and as many losses. Steve Bruce needs to get the best out of Willock once more, as Callum Wilson is still injured and Joelinton is never likely to score more than a handful each season, leaving the emphasis on Allain Saint-Maximin to do the business to keep the club afloat. WU

• Wolves v Newcastle, Saturday 3pm

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Liverpool 6 11 14
2 Man City 6 11 13
3 Chelsea 6 10 13
4 Man Utd 6 8 13
5 Everton 6 5 13
6 Brighton 6 3 13
7 West Ham 6 5 11
8 Aston Villa 6 2 10
9 Brentford 6 3 9
10 Arsenal 6 -5 9
11 Tottenham Hotspur 6 -5 9
12 Watford 6 -2 7
13 Leicester 6 -3 7
14 Wolverhampton 6 -2 6
15 Crystal Palace 6 -3 6
16 Southampton 6 -3 4
17 Newcastle 6 -7 3
18 Leeds 6 -8 3
19 Burnley 6 -6 2
20 Norwich 6 -14 0

Contributors

Nick Ames, Will Unwin and Daniel Harris

The GuardianTramp

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